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What does a Programmer do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A programmer, also frequently referred to as a computer programmer, is commonly perceived as the brains behind a computer program. She typically writes detailed instructions that guide a computer through the logical steps necessary to process information to be used for specific applications. When a typical computer user initiates the screen command “view source,” the symbols and largely unidentifiable language that appear on the screen are normally the work of a programmer.

Programmers are employed by almost every sector of business, including profit and non-profit companies. They can be found in hospitals, educational institutions and government agencies. Engineering firms as well as production and manufacturing facilities regularly hire programmers. Some companies employ these professionals full-time while others only contract with programmers as required by the needs of the company.

Before a programmer embarks on a project, she normally confers with the employer to clearly understand the goals of the proposed program. Once she fully comprehends the program’s objective, the programmer typically constructs a flow chart that depicts how the information should travel through the system in a logical and orderly fashion. Software engineers and systems analysts are often asked to advise on this stage of the program development.

The language the programmer chooses for her program largely depends on the nature of the application. Some typical languages used to create Web sites and interactive forms include HTML, XML, XHTML and PHP. A common language for administrative, finance and business system applications is COBOL.

Once a program is complete, a programmer is generally required to run it to identify glitches in the context, content or language. This process, commonly called debugging, continues until the program is deemed complete and operational. Debugging can take anywhere from a few days to more than a year depending on the number of errors and the length of the program. A software engineer may again be called upon for assistance during this phase of programming.

The most common area in which programmers work is applications programming. Persons who focus on this type of programming normally specialize in writing language for a specific field, such as accounting or science. They differ from systems programmers who traditionally customize existing system programming to help old hardware successfully work with new hardware.

The minimum educational requirement for a programmer is usually a bachelor’s degree in information management, computer science, mathematics or systems programming. Solid experience in using various database systems is generally preferred. Certificates of completion in the latest programming languages and software are considered assets for job applicants.

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Discussion Comments
By andee — On Apr 27, 2012

My son is a computer programmer and knew at a young age what he wanted to do. His mind naturally works that way and he finds his job very challenging.

He not only spends his time at work on the computer, but is on the computer a lot during his free time too.

If you ever need to know anything about a computer problem, he is the one to ask. It is wonderful having him around because he is a wealth of information.

I know I really depend on him to help me out with computer related issues. Since he really understands how the specific programs work, he is great at figuring out how to fix any problems I am having.

By LisaLou — On Apr 27, 2012

My sister-in-law has spent her whole career working for the same company as a computer programmer.

When she starts talking about her job, I am lost when it comes to the terminology she uses.

While she spends most of her working hours on computer related projects, she doesn't spend much time at all on one when she is off work.

She is tired of working with the computer, and the last thing she wants to do is go home and sit in front of the computer.

I am thankful for people who enjoy that type of work. It is too detailed for me, but I certainly enjoy the benefits of a well run computer program.

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